The first thing you’re going to realize about this list is that it’s not about wrestlers. I have have been deeply influenced by wrestlers, but I purposely keep their influence to a minimum, because I don’t want to become a shadow of my wrestling heroes; I want to cast my own unique shadow. I’m not without my influences, though, and what shall proceed is a sentimental love poem to the outside factors that I hope will one day fully form together into a moutherf__king Megazord of undeniable specialness. Here’s to dreamin’, right? *Smiles*
That’s right, I’m beginning this list, not with a person, but, with a television programing block/channel, because...love you, that’s why!
“I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family.” As a friendless, shy elementary school student, I used to miss directions to classroom assignments while looking forward to hearing that song. When the bell signaling that my time in the Hellrealm of Institutionalized Learning sounded like trumpets, I knew the Heaven of Homebound Seclusion was on the horizon and my real learning could begin with a plush, purple, man-sized tyrannosaurus rex gently feeding me the metamacro nutrients that my soul was starving for: kindness and acceptance.
Like all objects bound in time and space, the semiconductor-grade silicon like purity of innocence with which I had daily encounters with The Dinosaur From Our Imagination couldn’t last forever, though, and a single overheard conversation of my peers poured the sulfuric acid of cynicism on my Soul’s Eye.
“I bet you watch Barney!” Said Cooler Than Me Kid A.
“Shut up! No, I don’t! Only little kids like Barney! Barney is...gay!” Responded Cooler Than Me Kid B.
That, and their succeeding laughter at the perceived gayness of a reproductive-organless extant reptile, was all it took to break the spell of swollen heart for the character that taught me about spelling and having character. I was too young to understand and reject homophobia for the childlike ignorance that creates adult-only content of horrific acts of hatred, all I knew, back then, was: it wasn’t cool to like Barney, and I desired, so much, the human connection that came with coolness.
Many years of stagnating depression later, I was turning the mirror on myself and trying desperately to find something about me to love. A single memory rose like a lotus flower from the swamp of my self-centered mind. What little light I had left in my consciousness bade it to reveal its pedals. As it opened, so did the dam of damned ol’ cynical heart.
The memory was from a time not long before I turned my back on Barney and his public broadcasting buddies. It was a birthday, maybe my sixth. My father was far away, potentially sacrificing his precious human life in service to the United States Army. My mom, sister, and I lived with my grandparents in a dried seaweed green house with a weeping willow to provide us shade, as my cousins, who had showed for my birthday, and I dropped begged-for pennies into a tin pipe wishing-well. Maybe I wished for my dad to return home safely, it’s hard to be sure with memories.
What I am sure sure of is: after the party ended, and my mother and her mother cleaned up all the merry-made mess, I had an amount of money in my possession that I wasn’t accustomed to, thanks to some generous aunts and uncles and such. My mom walked me down to the corner country store, where she expected me to spend some of my gifted green. What she didn’t expect was for me to walk past the vast amounts of candy and few toys that the sweet, elderly woman who owned and operated the shop had, to the section reserved for ceramic figurines and snowglobes that we in the Southern Coalfields refer to as whatnots. After a few moments of careful examination, I picked out a set of three cute puppies. I asked my confused mom if I had enough money for them. She said I did. I said I wanted them. My mom shrugged her shoulders and helped me purchase them from the sweet, elderly shopkeeper, who carefully wrapped the puppies up in newspaper, and placed them in a brown paper bag, before handing them to me.
Without hesitation or reservation, I happily handed them over to my befuddled best friend, a.k.a. “Mommy”.
“Mommy…” I began. “Those are for your collection.”
“But. It’s. Your...birthday…” My mom said, as the bizarre reality of the situation began to come into the light of her perception.
“That. Is. So...sweet…” The sweet, elderly shopkeeper said, as the bizarre reality of the situation began to come into the light of her perception.
Is it? I thought, as the reality of selfless generosity being bizarre to the perception of adults came into the light of my still forming personality.
Where the f__k did that kid go? I asked myself many heartbreaks later. The question echoed in the caves of my consciousness. Crickets mocked my lack of an answer.
Okay… If not where, then why? Why would a child that was incubated in the gimmie-gimmie-dollar-culture of corporate cartoon commercial consumer training give his mom a present for his birthday?!
A familiar voice that wasn’t my usually hateful inner monologue, entered the current program of Mind TV and said, “Well, neighbor, you were a very special child. You didn’t have cable for most of your childhood and the only children’s television you could tune into regularly on your bunny-ear…” The familiar figure in the cardigan paused to make bunny ears on his head with his hands and smiled into my soul with capital U, capital L, Unconditional Love, before continuing, “...antennas. So, you spent time in the mornings with me in The Land Of Make Believe, where you learned about things like appreciation, respect, and celebrating your loved ones. You hung out in Sesame Street where you learned to have fun with the English Language. You developed a wanderlust and exploratory curiosity about other cultures in your pursuit of the international criminal Carmen Sandiego. You were shown that you can travel all over, most importantly into someone else’s mind and eye, without leaving your room, by following a Reading Rainbow to the pot of gold that is a good book. You learned that to experience The Joy Of Painting, the World with the art that’s in your soul, that you have to be willing to accept accidents and see the beauty in them.
You learned all this without the interruption of action packed, loud, flashing short bursts of someone trying to sell you happiness in the form of action figures that you have to have now, but will tire of quickly and send to the top of the ever-growing local stack of stuff-that-didn’t-keep-joy-in-our-hearts-long, or sugary foods, that destroy your teeth, negatively impact your immune system, and can lead to obesity, depending on your metabolism. No, neighbor, the teaching that you are uniquely beautiful and, this is important, that Everyone Else is, too, was made possible mostly by viewers like you (with a little corporate help, but without the corporate social-conditioning).”
So, I’m an assh___ because I stopped watching PBS? I asked my imaginary neighbor.
The gentleman in the house shoes became a little wide eyed at my language, but softened right back into that fear dissolving look of Care For You No Matter What, then he answered, “No, of course not. You were always that bundle of love that gave your mom those whatnots. And believe me, neighbor, you still are. We were just there to remind you of your true self in a World sadly prone to forgetfulness. But would you, could you, won’t you...remember?
Not long after remembering to remember, I was listening to a trap remix of the Barney theme and a bit of inspiration hit me.
“New bucket list item…” I declared to my wife. “...I want to hug Barney.”
“Stinson?” She asked.
“No… Of course not… I’d high-five Barney Stinson, silly. I’m talking about the damn dinosaur.”
“Oh.” She said, and went back to her phone. “I can make that happen.” She added.
She explained that her friend dons the purple suit for birthday parties.
A couple weeks after that conversation, and many years after the one where I abandoned Barney for his perceived lack of heteronormativity, I experience one of the coolest moments of my life, thus far, when my wrestling entrance was interrupted by a huge hug from the Dinosaur From Our Imagination, who just so happened to be played by a transgender man.
Don’t think that we have come completely full circle, yet, though: I still have to figure out exactly how to honor my PBS pals by paying their great service forward…and then some.
Stay tuned, won’t you, neighbor. *Smiles*